August 29, 2018 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Sentence variety is one of the more technical aspects of writing good content. It relates to the length, composition, sound, and effect of each sentence within a piece of copy. Focusing on variety can help turn an intermediate piece of writing into one that clearly shows more effort and eloquence.
Sentence variation keeps the reader on their toes. When every sentence starts and ends the same, is similar in length, and contains similar words and punctuation, things get boring quickly. Variety creates an element of surprise in every sentence, and it’s a signal to readers that what they’re reading deserves close attention. It keeps them engaged!
Have you ever started reading a text and quickly found your mind wandering? That’s caused, in part, by a lack of surprise. At first, you’re engaged in the content, but your mind quickly becomes accustomed to what you’re reading, and you begin to tune out. That’s less likely to happen when you’re being challenged and stimulated by what you’re reading. The rest of this article will focus on ways to create and assess sentence variety in your content.
The most obvious way to create variety is to vary sentence length. The end of a sentence is a natural spot for the reader to rest. Longer sentences may be needed to express complex ideas, but they should be followed by a break whenever possible. Too many short sentences probably won’t grab your reader’s attention.
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Punctuation is your friend when you are aiming to mix up your sentence structure. Not every sentence needs to end with a period. Try mixing in questions, exclamations, and maybe even an occasional ellipsis, depending on the formality of your content. Commas and semicolons also create space within your content. They can be used to slow the reader down. On the other hand, exclamation points will speed the reader up!
Tone can be subtly varied by using a mix of punctuation marks, carefully choosing words to match the tone of the sentence, and closely considering what you want the reader to think or feel after reading each sentence.
There are many different ways to say the same thing. If you notice yourself leaning on the same few words too often, pick up a thesaurus, and find good replacements. Above all, avoid peppering your writing with the same filler sentences or phrases. These get old quickly and offer no substance.
Approach your subject from multiple angles. Include a variety of first, second, and third person perspectives wherever you can. This is a helpful way to show empathy and mastery of different perspectives on the subject to your audience. It also adds variety to sentence openings.
A well-placed fragment often adds humor, surprise, or bite. It acts as a jolt to the reader to pay attention. Fragments may not be appropriate for more formal writing, but they do send a message of confidence.
Each sentence should add something critical and unique to your content. Varying sentence purpose is another way to keep copy moving. For instance, some sentences are meant to establish facts. They can be long or short in nature, and they may or may not include a lot of detail. Shorter factual statements drive home a particular point. Longer factual statements serve to paint a picture of a situation, giving readers enough details to immerse themselves in it. Adding detail can be the focus of a separate sentence, as well.
Other sentences are meant to stimulate the reader’s thinking. They may introduce ideas that are challenging or controversial to a reader. Such sentences stir up a reader’s desire to see how the author will back up his or her statements. While other sentences are a great addition to written copy, too many of them can become monotonous. An article that is full of controversial statements typically conveys just one tone; it can become tiring to read.
Question sentences are meant to engage thinking and create a natural break in a written piece. The reader must stop and think about how they will answer your question. These are only a few examples of the functions a sentence can serve within a paragraph. Having a good mix of different sentence purposes helps keep the paragraph dynamic.
For those who make a living out of writing, focusing on the sounds of a sentence may be a part of the writing process. It’s worth noting that word sounds are another element that adds to the variety of a sentence. Each word combination has its own sound. Some are harsh, while others are lyrical. Business writers often choose to fall on the “lyrical” side of the spectrum in their copywriting.
You can use a few tools to assess sentence variety within your work. One is to make a list of all the sentences in your copy and tally up the number of words or syllables in each. Do they all sound the same? If so, you should consider breaking some sentences up, combining a few into one, or adding more details to support your text.
Focus on the openings of your sentences. For instance, make a column that shows the first word of every sentence. Make sure you’re not using certain words repeatedly at the beginning of your sentences. You can create similar lists of items to check sentence variety, like sentence purpose or punctuation.
Much of the above comes with practice. Experienced content writers have likely developed a skill for sentence variety, doing so with greater confidence and success. But for novice writers thinking about this aspect of writing, a bit of analysis goes a long way because sentence variety is the key to creating great content. It’s worth taking the time to get it right.
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